Pet Rat Pros and Cons: Read Before Getting

Pet Rat Pros and Cons

The Pros and Cons of Owning a Pet Rat

There are a number of small pets that one can choose from, each with its own benefits and disadvantages. If you are considering adopting a pet rat, you will want to know the pros and cons of keeping one as a pet.

What are the pros and cons of keeping a rat? There are a variety of pros and cons to keeping rats. Some of them include:


  • Rats are relatively low-maintenance
  • Rats are social and friendly
  • Rats are large enough for children to handle safely
  • Rats are very intelligent
  • Rats do not live long


  • Rats are prone to tumors
  • Rats are not solitary animals
  • Rats (especially males) can have an unpleasant odor
  • Rats do not live long

Keep reading for details on each of the advantages and disadvantages that come with owning rats, including the fact that they have a short lifespan which can be both a pro and a con, depending on your stage in life and your ability for commitment.

Rats As Pets: The Pros

There are many pros to keeping rats. They are friendly, inquisitive, and intelligent. Some rat owners describe their rats as similar in personality (though not care requirements) to dogs – often, they will greet you at the bars of the cage, even licking and “grooming” your hands when you reach in. Here are some details on the benefits of living with rats.

Pro #1: Rats Are Low-Maintenance

When compared to a larger pet like a dog, rats are considered to be very low-maintenance. You don’t have to worry about having long hours at work, or even the occasional weekend away. If your rats have access to fresh water and food and a large enclosure, they will be fine spending the day in their cage with only one another for company.

Their food does not need to be measured out, as rats are remarkably good at self-regulating their food quantity. If selected from a responsible breeder, they have very few (if any) health problems. They are able to use a water bottle as opposed to a dish that must be refilled throughout the day. They are very easy to care for, with the one caveat being the cleaning of the cage.

Pro #2: Rats Are Social & Friendly

Possibly one of the greatest advantages of keeping rats is their engaging and endearing dispositions. My rat enclosure used to be housed next to the back door, where the family most frequently entered and exited the home.

Almost without fail, every time I came home, they would greet me, holding on to the cage bars with their little hands, smelling me, and licking my hand as I greeted them. Most rats are happy to play with their human, sit in their person’s lap while watching a movie, and even “groom” their keeper.

Pro #3: Rats Are Large Rodents

One of the reasons that a pet like a dwarf hamster is not recommended for children is due to its very small size. They can be a challenge to handle when they are this tiny. Rats, while still considered small pets in comparison to other companion animals commonly kept, are more substantial in size. This makes handling them easier, especially for younger people.

Pro #4: Rats Are Intelligent

Rats are very smart. They can learn tricks, can easily be litter-trained, and have excellent memories. This makes engaging with them a rewarding experience, especially if you are keen to teach them a few things. Some researchers even claim that rats are “as smart as dogs.”

Not only is it fun to interact with them, it is also enjoyable to watch them interact with one another – if you watch closely, you can even see evidence of them cooperating with and providing favors for one another.

Pro #5: Rats Have A Short Lifespan

The short lifespan of a rat is both a pro and a con. If you are new to rats, you may see this shorter burden of responsibility as a benefit (though you will likely disagree as you bond with your pet).

You may be understandably hesitant to take on the commitment of a longer-lived animal, and in this way a rat’s shorter life can be perceived as a pro.

This can also be a benefit if the rat is meant for a child (whose interests may wane) and someone who may be moving or making another major life change in the next few years.

Rats As Pets: The Cons

While most rat people consider the benefits of these pets as far outweighing the potential cons, there are disadvantages to these animals as well. While they are generally healthy when adopted from a reputable breeder, without healthy bloodlines, there is a high likelihood of tumors.

There is also the fact that they have a very short lifespan, which while a benefit to those with uncertain future plans, can be a serious disadvantage when you are as attached to your pet as most humans are. 

Con #1: Rats Are Prone To Tumors

Rats are notoriously prone to cancerous and benign tumors, which is just one of the reasons that they are so commonly used in medical research. While many of these tumors are benign, they can grow to a size so large that they inhibit mobility and interfere with vital organs.

While many benign tumors can be successfully removed, the surgery can be prohibitive in cost, and the health of the rat while under anesthesia can be compromised. While malignant tumors can also often be removed, they are likely to come back in a short period of time.

For these reasons, it is very important to adopt a rat from a reputable breeder. Many responsible ratteries will ask you to report back any tumors their offspring develop so that they can remove that bloodline from their breeding program.

Both of my last rats sadly developed tumors. While they were not good candidates for surgery (as reported to us by their veterinarian), they did not develop these tumors until much later in life. 

Con #2: Rats Must Be Kept In Pairs

Most rat keepers do not consider this to be a con; however, if you have your heart set on just one solitary small pet, a hamster may be better suited to your lifestyle. Rats are very social animals and should never be kept alone. They should be kept, at a minimum, in same-sex pairs. Most rats are also happy to live in same-sex groupings, with larger groups being closer to how they live in their natural environments. 

If a rat is kept alone, he will become depressed and anxious. This can become an issue if you have a pair of rats and one of them passes away before the other.

One of my recent rats had a malignant tumor, while the other had a benign tumor. The healthier rat died very soon after his brother with the malignant tumor passed. While he was also elderly, it is my belief that he lost the will to live after his brother died.

Con #3: Rats Can Be Smelly

If you Google whether or not rats are stinky, you will likely read that rats have no discernable smell if you keep their environment clean. However, it is my personal experience (and that of other rat owners I’ve spoken to) that rats do tend to have a stronger odor than other rodents like the hamsters that we’ve kept.

One consideration in this regard may be gender. I have had male rats, and I’ve noticed the strongest scent to occur right around puberty. The scent can be described as musky and biological in nature. Rats (at least of the male gender) can also emit a genital discharge as they reach sexual maturity, which can have an off-putting smell – during this time, more frequent cage cleanings may be necessary.

Fortunately, puberty does not last long, and many of the side effects (both physical and behavioral) tend to wane a bit as they continue to mature.

Con #4: Rats Have A Short Lifespan

Even if you once considered the short lifespan of a rat to be a benefit, you will likely see it as a disadvantage once you develop a relationship with your rats. Pet rats live an average of 2-3 years. Whether a young child or an adult, it is hard for every rat owner to say goodbye to their beloved pet after such a short time. 

Is A Rat The Right Pet For You?

If you are looking for the simplicity of an observational pet, a rat is likely not the right choice for you. Rats enjoy spending time with both their rodent and human friends.

A rat should not be left in the cage for days on end – if this is the kind of pet you were looking for, a hamster may be an excellent choice for your lifestyle. On the other hand, if you are looking for a curious, playful, intelligent pet that you can engage and interact with on a daily basis, you would likely enjoy adding a couple of rats to your life.

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